- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2011

I recently did some interviews about the health risks of human egg donation.

College campuses abound with advertisements that offer large sums of money — $5,000, $10,000, even $100,000 — to young women who are willing to donate their eggs to infertile couples.

College coeds are targeted because they are likely to be young, healthy, intelligent and in need of extra money. Altriusm is a major motivator too: Many young women see the true generosity of sharing one’s eggs to help others build a family.

One of the people I interviewed is Sujatha Jesudason, executive director of Generations Ahead, a social justice advocacy group with an interest in reproductive issues. Generations Ahead is developing a website on egg donation with Choice USA and the Health Equity Institute at San Francisco State University.

Ms. Jesudason, who holds a doctorate in sociology, has a lot to say on egg donation.

First of all, it’s not a “get-rich quick” scheme, she says. Even if a woman makes it into the donor pool, she “may not see any money for six months to two years,” if at all.

Second, “There’s a high probability of rejection” throughout the process.

For instance, if a woman is ineligible to donate blood, she probably will be ineligible to donate eggs for the same reasons.

There are weight restrictions, a psychological screening and questions about family history and personal lifestyle.

Something as simple as having a tattoo could be a deal-breaker, as some clinics accept women with tattoos and others do not, Ms. Jesudason says.

Some clinics may turn away a woman if they think she isn’t mature enough for the process (some clinics prefer women in their mid-20s) or if there’s a question about her fertility. In fact, some clinics prefer egg donors who are already mothers since they have proven their fertility, she says.

In addition, a woman must undergo medical screening to verify her good health, sign informed-consent and legal documents and provide a baby picture of herself.

That baby picture is very important, as it is the image prospective parents see of the donor.

“Once the intended parents look through the book, and say, ‘This is the person. I want her eggs,’ then they begin the medical procedures to start the donation process,” Ms. Jesudason says. “And they only begin the procedure once you are chosen. …It can take a couple of years before someone chooses you, if they choose you at all, so this is not guaranteed by any means.”

Women who are “chosen” to donate will find that it “has a big impact on [their] lifestyle,” she notes.

For instance, “If you are a smoker or drinker, you can’t be doing that during this time period. You can’t, for a certain period of time [while egg follicles are maturing] have any sex at all, and you certainly can’t have unprotected sex throughout the whole procedure. So it’s a big commitment.”

The donation process includes giving oneself needle injections of fertility drugs — which typically cause mild discomfort — for several weeks. And then, there is the actual egg extraction, which is done under anesthesia. A typical harvest is about 20 eggs. Recovery for most women is fairly quick, and it is such a rewarding experience that some women donate their eggs on multiple occasions.

But there can be serious side effects. As many as 1 percent of donors experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can lead to more serious complications, fertility leaders say.

For Ms. Jesudason, the basic question is “Is it worth it?” While she can see why some young women would say “yes,” in her own case, if she were a young college student again, the answer would be “no.”

Even if the compensation were $10,000, she says, there’s a potentially long wait to be chosen and then “all the medical tests, injecting yourself, weekly ultrasounds. … I mean it’s a lot, and that’s not even considering the risks.”

“When I was in college,” she adds, “I was like, ‘I have exams, I have midterms, I have my life to figure out. I don’t have time for this.’”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide